Where to put dough to rise: finding your kitchen's comfort zone

“Why do I have such trouble with bread dough rising?” Oh, how often we’ve heard this plaintive question on the Baker’s Hotline here at King Arthur Flour! Sometimes yeast dough not rising is an issue with the dough itself (too much sugar, salt, flour, fat; take your pick). But often it’s simply the environment in which you’ve placed your bowl of dough. Knowing where to put dough to rise, especially if you’re baking in a chilly winter kitchen, is key to yeast’s happiness (and ultimately, your own).

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

Luckily for all of us bread bakers (both experienced and less so), yeast WILL reliably grow, divide, and make bread dough rise except under extreme conditions of duress: high or low temperatures, old age, or a severe imbalance in the dough’s ingredients. Maybe your sweet dough rises with excruciating slowness but, sooner or later, yeast does its thing.

It’s just that most of us don’t enjoy waiting around for bread dough to rise. Are you willing to rearrange your schedule to afford yeast the exact time it needs — given its environment both within the dough and on your kitchen counter? No, I didn’t think so. Luckily, assuming you’ve made a “healthy” dough with the correct balance of ingredients, you can control the rising time of your dough pretty easily. It’s all in knowing where to put dough to rise.

A cold kitchen can be challenging for yeast dough. Discover ways to make your dough cozy and comfortable — despite your kitchen's temperature. Click To Tweet

Temperature matters

The temperature at which dough rises has a direct effect on the flavor of your final product. The longer dough rises (up to a point), the more flavor it develops. Conversely, dough that rises too quickly produces bread with flat flavor. Nail the sweet spot — warm enough to rise at a decent rate, yet cool enough to develop flavor — and you’re golden.

Studies have shown that the optimum temperature for yeast to grow and flavor to develop is 75°F to 78°F. (Interested in the science behind the data? See our blog post: Desired dough temperature.) This temperature range gives yeast dough enough time to develop flavor while still keeping the whole process within a manageable timeframe.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

Unfortunately, an ambient temperature of 75°F to 78°F in your kitchen can be difficult to maintain. I don’t know about you, but my winter kitchen is more like 62°F to 65°F. And even if you’re down South, you might have trouble keeping your kitchen in the high 70s — whether because it’s winter, or you’ve got the AC going.

Professional bakeries often use temperature-controlled “cabinets” called retarders to let shaped loaves and rolls rise first in a cool environment (often overnight) to develop flavor; then at warmer temperatures just before baking, to keep things moving along efficiently. A retarder is obviously the best way to control your dough’s rising environment.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

A foolproof solution

The home baker’s version of the pro’s retarder is an electric dough proofer, a countertop temperature/humidity-controlled proof box. This appliance lets you set whatever temperature you want and just walk away, knowing that the dough, bread, or rolls you’ve placed inside will rise without any cold drafts or temperature swings to upset the apple cart.

If you’re a passionate bread baker, I highly recommend this effective tool (which is also great for tempering chocolate, making yogurt, proofing sourdough starter, and even slow cooking). Bonus: It folds down for easy storage. Read all about it here: Yeast dough’s secret weapon.

But handy though it is, you certainly don’t need a countertop proofer to raise your yeast dough. There are plenty of other ways to provide your rising dough with the warm, humid environment yeast loves.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

Where to put dough to rise: start with a closed container

Why not just drape a towel over your bowl of rising dough, like your great-grandma did? Because your goal is to create an environment that’s not only warm but humid. Why humid? Moisture keeps the skin of the dough supple and soft, promoting a better rise. A cotton towel allows moisture to escape; plastic (or even better, a snap-on lid) keeps moisture trapped.

I like to use the food-safe plastic dough-rising bucket pictured above. Not only does it create a moisture-trapping environment, but its markings help me gauge when the dough has doubled in size.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

Where to put dough to rise: your turned-off oven

Many bakers like to preheat their oven briefly, turn it off, then place the bowl of dough within. My issue with this is, I usually forget and preheat the oven way beyond what’s necessary, and then have to wait for it to cool down.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

It takes about an hour for my oven, with just the light on, to go from cool room temperature to optimum yeast dough-rising temperature.

So instead, I simply turn on the oven light, and the temperature within gradually rises. I’ve learned that in the winter (when my kitchen is cold) if I turn the oven light on an hour ahead of adding the bowl of dough my oven temperature will be right around 76°F. I put the dough in, leave the light on for another 30 minutes or so, then turn the light off, allowing the temperature inside to reverse its course.

Of course, your oven and your kitchen will yield different results. But I urge you to take the time to see how effectively just a simple lightbulb can heat your oven, creating the perfect dough-rising environment.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

Where to put dough to rise: your “steamed” microwave

Here’s a technique savvy bakers have been using for years: Bring a couple of cups of water to a full rolling boil in your microwave oven; in my oven, this takes 3 minutes. Wait about 45 minutes (for the microwave’s interior to gradually cool down some), and exchange the bowl of water for your (uncovered) bowl of dough; quickly close the door.

The interior temperature of your microwave will start out in the mid- to low-80s and will drop down through the 70s over the next hour or so, providing an ideal rising environment.

If you’re in a hurry and forgot to boil the water ahead of time, just use a smaller amount of water and bring it barely to a boil. The microwave’s temperature will drop more quickly into yeast’s comfort zone (though it also won’t linger in that zone as long, either).

Word to the wise: Boiling water can be dangerous, of course, so be very careful moving it out of the microwave. Don’t decide to add a tea bag or otherwise disturb it until it’s calmed down and stopped bubbling!

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

Where to put dough to rise: more solutions

  • Atop your water heater or refrigerator; or on a high shelf. Heat rises, and the top of a major appliance that runs constantly is usually a bit warmer than the surrounding atmosphere.
  • Atop a heating pad set to low. Wrap the heating pad in a heavy bath towel to prevent too much heat from “cooking” the bottom of the dough.
  • Close to a heat source. Whether you have a woodstove, radiators, or baseboard heat, find a warm spot nearby. This isn’t as foolproof a solution as some of the others, since the heat can cycle on and off, but it’s better than your cold kitchen counter.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

  • In a cooler preheated with a bowl of boiling water. This is a similar situation to a microwave oven, though not as convenient since there’s no window through which to view the rising dough. Place a bowl of boiling water inside your closed cooler for several minutes. Remove the bowl of water, add the uncovered bowl of dough, and close the cooler.

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

The final rise

So far it’s all been about dough’s first rise in the bowl. What about once it’s shaped and in its loaf pan?

Most methods work just as well for shaped dough as for dough in the bowl. The exception: your oven. Since you’ll want to preheat your oven well before the bread is ready to bake, you don’t want your loaf pan inside — even though you swear you won’t forget and will take it out before turning the oven on. (Been there, done that… multiple times.)

So place your pan in some other warm spot you’ve identified. If it’s not a humid environment (e.g., your microwave or a cooler), snap a clear elasticized shower cap (or bowl cover) onto the pan to trap moisture.

Let the dough rise, bake your bread…

Where to put dough to rise via @kingarthurflour

…and enjoy the results!

What other “warm and cozy” ways have you discovered to help your yeast dough to rise in cooler conditions? Please share in “comments,” below.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Cas

    I put my dough to rise on my stove top, however, above my stove is an over the stove microwave. I put the light on, on the microwave, which shines over my stove top and leave it on throughout the rise. It warms the dough and I have never had a problem with my dough rising. Works like a charm and my kitchen is cold.

    Reply
  2. Joyce

    I have a “bread proof” setting on my electric wall oven but no idea how it works…need to check the temp, but it seems to get awfully warm! Any ideas?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Joyce, we’ve definitely found that the proofing setting on many ovens is a bit warmer than we’d like. Feel free to use an external thermometer to check on yours if it’s something you’re interested in trying, though! Kat@KAF

  3. Joyce

    Assume you mean wait 45 “seconds” for the microwave to cool down after boiling the water…not 45 minutes?!?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Joyce, my microwave is well over 100°F once I’ve boiled water in it, and I feel that’s too warm for raising dough; I put a thermometer inside and found that, after about 45 minutes, it’s cooled down to a more reasonable 80°F-82°F. But that’s just my microwave; yours may be different. PJH@KAF

  4. Carla

    After baking for 50 years, I finally broke down and bought a proof box…Brod and Taylor…best thing EVER!! However…a sheet pan does not fit…so I use those giant ziploc bags..designed for storing big things. The sheet pans fit with room to roll the opening end shut and under the pan. Works perfect! Be sure to turn the bag inside out to dry throughly…or mold will grow. Learned that the hard way!! A bag lasts almost forever!!

    Reply
  5. Warren Huff

    I really love reading these comments. One of my favorite recipes is making no knead bread following an article Mark Bittman published in the NY Times a few years ago. I use a large stainless steel mixing bowl, add enough water to make a firm but slightly gooey dough, cover it with ClingWrap and let it sit overnight on the kitchen counter. The next morning it is all bubbly and ready to plop in my dutch oven at 500 degrees. The texture is marvelous!

    Reply
  6. Kimberly Werner

    I have halogen undercabinet lights in my kitchen. The tiny bulbs produce a lot of heat, but it’s the perfect spot to put bread dough to rise. I put the bowl up close to the lights and turn it every so often so the warmth doesn’t just get to one side of the dough. When I do 4 loaves at a time, I have to use my oven for the final rise, but I set it for the lowest temperature possible (175) and ALWAYS set the timer for 1 minute. That’s just enough to warm up the oven and the timer reminds me to turn it off. Then, I turn the oven light on just for some extra warmth.

    Reply
  7. Mike Trimble

    I always ask my wife to wash a load of clothes before I start mixing up my dough so when I am ready for the first rise the clothes are in the dryer. Preheated (to low temp) oven also works well but I have to leave the door cracked during the rise. The oven works really well for the final rise.

    Reply
  8. Jennifer Jorgensen

    PJ, that use of a shower cap or elasticized bowl cover over your loaf pan is brilliant!! I use greased plastic wrap and always sense that it’s pressing down too tightly on the proofing loaf, even when I wrap it loosely. Great article. I’ve used many of these tricks for years and you’ve given us all, I’m sure, many new tweaks to improve the process. Cheers, Jen J

    Reply
  9. Raymond

    My dough does great up to the point of placing in oven for about 7 min then it collapses in the center ugh!.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Raymond, sounds like you’re letting your bread rise a bit too high before baking. If it looks gorgeous and fully risen when you place it in the oven — it’s gone too far. Since bread will continue to rise when it hits the oven’s heat, you need to leave some room for expansion. So try putting the bread in when it’s not quite as risen as you think it should be, OK? Good luck – PJH@KAF

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